OHS Alumnae Panel
As part of our lunch speaker series for students, we welcomed back some old friends. A panel of four OHS alumnae, facilitated by History and 8th Grade Homeroom teacher Taylor Hollander, talked to the school about what they’re up to now, what they were up to in middle school, and how those are interrelated. Nathalie Oates ’05, Kate Belleman ’03, Melody Harrison ’06, and Iram Amir ’14 shared with us favorite memories, their take on goals and success, and their experience with pivoting.
A big focus on the talk was about how much students should be planning for their futures at this stage. Did they know in middle school what they were going to be doing as adults?
Iram Amir ’14, a current student at Virginia Tech, says she spent most of her middle school years fervently holding on to a dream of being a dentist. After trying out a dental internship in high school and feeling less enamored of enamel, however, she found herself more drawn to the work she was doing with data during an internship for local organization ChildSavers. “I’m studying finance now,” she says, “but as a first-year, there’s still time for me to figure it out.”
On the kinds of challenges she’s facing now, Iram says that a big part of her personal work is about time management, especially as it relates to learning how to say no in the face of extracurricular activities and organizations you feel inspired to help. “You need to know when to take time for yourself,” she says.
Kate Belleman ’03 has established similar boundaries when it comes to balancing work life and a creative life. She currently works in event management and development and serves on the OHS Board of Trustees, but she was clear that she has made decisions specifically to allow her to pursue her passion of dance as a choreographer for local theater productions. “Hold onto what you love,” she told students. “We have to learn to be open and adaptable, and though I needed to do something that felt stable, I didn’t want to lose who I was while having a career.”
Melody Harrison ’06 had lots to say about how Orchard House affected her confidence during her middle school years. A self-described introvert, she told students, “Before I came to Orchard House I was so shy. I wouldn’t talk to anyone except my friends. I definitely credit Orchard House for bringing me out of my shell.” Melody has changed quite a bit in terms of her comfort level and now regularly speaks publicly in her career promoting green energy. Nathalie seconded the sentiment: “If you’re in an environment where you feel heard, it’s definitely much easier to come out of your shell.”
In terms of how single-sex education specifically contributed to her future, Nathalie Oates ’05, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, shared, “My experience at Orchard House was why I considered applying to women’s colleges. When you are navigating college and starting to make a lot of decisions, there is a lot of space in women’s college for self-discovery and encouragement. It’s wonderful to have emerged with that camaraderie.”
Furthermore, Nathalie pointed out, “The debates in Mr. Hollander’s class prepared me so well for high school and college. Class sizes at my small college were like those at Orchard House, so most classes were discussion-based.” Melody also gravitated toward a small high school and college, replicating the social and academic experience she found at Orchard House. Both Nathalie and Melody are currently officers in the Orchard House School Alumnae Association, which works to keep OHS alumnae connected to the school community and to each other.
All our visiting alumnae had much to share about the ways Orchard House helped them not necessarily to become a certain kind of student, but how it helped them bloom into the version of themselves that made them feel confident and authentic. “OHS helped me find confidence in myself and my morals, and that’s when I started covering,” Iram told the girls. ”It definitely taught me a lot about staying true to myself.”
Kate wrapped up that sentiment, remembering herself as a middle schooler. “I came to Orchard House with a lot of self-confidence issues, and when I was here I learned that the person that has to believe the most in me is ME. I went in thinking I wasn’t worthy, and I came out thinking I could conquer a lot more than I’d thought."